Democracy Arsenal

February 03, 2006

Latin America

Latin American -- Live Blog IV
Posted by Michael Signer

After a lunch that truly transcended the rubber-chicken fare to which we itinerant political hacks become accustomed (yes, there was asparagus salad, and sea bass served with a little wrapped up lemon, and, yes, a sort of custard thing with brandy-soaked fruit in the bottom -- and wine that didn't come from a box!), we're now ready for our lunchtime address by Jose Miguel Insulza, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States.

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Latin America

Latin America -- Live-Blog III
Posted by Michael Signer

We've all finished coffee -- in a crowded room where a multitude of different Latin American accents slipped and slided, and the pastries were finished in about three seconds -- and have sat back down for the second session:  "Is It the Economy?"

Albert Fishlow, a bearded Columbia professor with a shock of white hair, introduces the panel -- and asks why, if the neoliberal economic policies of integration between the U.S. and Latin America are working, is every politician elected in opposition to neoliberalism?

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Latin America

Latin America -- Live-Blog II
Posted by Michael Signer

Let's set the scene a bit - -the Harvard Club in New York, mahogany everywhere, chandeliers with little linen lamp covers, a small glassed-in booth in the corner where the translators are sitting, and about thirty folks -- most Latin American -- seated around  a rectangular array of tables.  The doors here are actually covered in leather.

Andre Vitor Singer, a Brazilian political scientist, is speaking -- he says he's optimistic about democracy in Latin America. 

His argument is that democracy is good because it's competitive.  Bolivia is a prime example -- showing that there's not a crisis.   "It's a good moment." 

This was not just a Pollyanna moment, but a cheerleader one.

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Latin America

Latin America -- Live-Blog II
Posted by Michael Signer

Louise Frechette, the Deputy Secretary-General, is pitching the UN Development Fund -- invests in new democracies.  "The UN is committed to helping Latin America strengthen its political institutions."  She started in Spanish and, without a hitch, switched over to English -- unclear why.

Listening to her, I find an interesting tension between listening to someone from the UN talk about democratization as the product of collective reasoning and permission from the democratizee, and thinking about how the U.S. does it, at the barrel of a gun.   

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Latin America

Latin America -- "Crisis in Governance"
Posted by Michael Signer

I've been Amtrak'ed up to NYC today to live-blog a conference being sponsored by the Security and Peace Institute, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, and the United Nations Development Programme:  "Crisis of Governance:  The International Stake in Sustaining Democracy in Latin America." 

During the day, I'm going to be live-blogging each of the five sessions of the conference. 

The conference, which was put into the works several months ago, has impeccable timing.  The recent ascension of the sweater-wearing Evo Morales in Bolivia, and the constant agitation of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela (among others) have put the topic of democracy and its stability into the brains of everyone who's interested in what democratization really means, and what's happening in this hemisphere.

That all said -- I am not a Latin American expert.  At all.  So I'm going to approach this task and the conference from the perspective I think many of you probably share -- an interested, aware, but ordinary observer.  I did spend a month after college studying Spanish in Costa Rica, but that's more background lighting than spotlight.

OK, so let's go -- I've put on my translator ear thing and am feeling all UN-y.  Please keep checking through the day, and I'll keep you posted on what I'm learning.

January 24, 2006

Latin America

Notes on my weekend in Venezuela
Posted by Adam Isacson

I just returned this evening from two days and three nights in Maracaibo, Venezuela, where I spoke about U.S. policy before a gathering of hundreds of faith-based peace and human-rights activists from both Colombia and Venezuela. While I’ve been to Colombia more than 25 times, I’d never set foot in Venezuela before. Here are a few impressions based on a visit that was much too brief.

Maracaibo is Venezuela’s second-largest city, in the country’s northwest about 2 hours’ drive from Colombia. It is a scorching-hot port (it was over 90 degrees in the shade) in the middle of the country’s oil-producing heartland. However, you wouldn’t know from looking at Maracaibo that Venezuela has been a top oil-producing nation for nearly half a century. The roads and other infrastructure I saw were in no better shape than what one sees in Bogotá, Medellín or Cali. Slums abounded, and many storefronts and shopping centers were empty.

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January 18, 2006

Latin America

Did Plan Colombia work? A look at the numbers
Posted by Adam Isacson

Six years ago this week, President Clinton submitted an emergency request to Congress for $1.3 billion in mostly military aid to Colombia and its neighbors. The money – and billions more since – went to “Plan Colombia,” an ambitious Colombian government plan (written with very heavy U.S. input) that was to bring Colombia “peace, prosperity, and the strengthening of the state.”

Six years later, I continue to be absolutely mystified by U.S. officialdom’s capacity to convince itself that Plan Colombia has been a smashing success.

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January 14, 2006

Latin America

12 elections in 12 months
Posted by Adam Isacson

The twelve months between November 2005 and November 2006 will witness the most intense period of electoral activity in Latin America and the Caribbean since dictatorships gave way to elected civilian rule about twenty years ago. Like the planets of the solar system lining up as their orbits coincide, twelve countries in the region are choosing new presidents in rapid succession. (Nearly every country in the region has a presidential, not a parliamentary, system.)

Sounds like great news for democracy in the developing world, doesn’t it? Well, not everyone in the United States thinks so. The trouble, you see, is that there are a lot of left-wingers in the running, and they’re popular.

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January 11, 2006

Latin America

The Latin Americanist's lament
Posted by Adam Isacson

Many thanks to Democracy Arsenal for inviting me to be a guest blogger for the next week and a half. I’m Adam Isacson, and I work on security issues in Latin America, particularly Colombia, at the Center for International Policy. In my next few posts, I hope to turn your gaze southward to an important but usually forgotten region.

Because the rest of the Western Hemisphere gets so little attention here in Washington, being a Latin Americanist means putting up with a lot of small frustrations and indignities. If you want to read English-language news about what’s going on in the region, you’ve usually got to turn to the “World Roundup” of wire-story excerpts on page A27 of your paper. When you tell someone you’ve just been to Colombia, there’s a fair chance they’ll say, “Columbia South Carolina or Columbia Maryland?” People like Jesse Helms, Dan Burton, Oliver North and Pat Robertson tend to take a special interest in the region. But everyone else – from newspaper correspondents to academic departments to the Southern Command – complains of neglect and resource scarcity.

The biggest frustration by far, though, is watching the United States today repeating mistakes worldwide that it used to make only in Latin America.

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August 23, 2005

Latin America

Who Would Jesus Assassinate?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

if my French doesn't fail me, Le Monde is reporting that Pat Robertson went on his Christian Broadcasting Network Monday night and said, "If Chavez thinks we are trying to kill him, we ought to go and do it."

He further explained that assassinating Chavez "would be much cheaper than launching a war." 

It has fallen to poor Sean McCormack at the State Department and GOP Senator Norm Coleman to repudiate this.  For once I think Coleman's comment was perfect:  "incredibly stupid."

But since there isn't much strategic coming out of this Administration about Latin America -- trade agreements and dire warnings about leftists -- this will have lots of impact overseas, even if it is barely noticed here.  And I'd like to see one of Mr McCormack's bosses step up and repudiate Robertson, loudly. 

In my years of church-going, I have never encountered Jesus' Sermon on Cost-Efficient Elimination of One's Enemies.  But perhaps this is just one more thing that the liberal Protestant hierarchy has been keeping from me.

(Meanwhile, Tim Padgett at Time points out that Robertson could hardly do more to bolster Chavez' popularity.  Maybe Robertson is hoping Chavez will respond in kind?  "Do unto others..." now that I do remember.)

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